This week we’ll continue exploring the “mind/body split,” and its effects on your eating.

None of us were born with a split between mind and body. Every baby and most young children are naturally and spontaneously in touch with the body. They know what to eat, how much to eat, and when to stop.

Similarly, a wild animal is in touch with its body. Given a plentiful supply of the right foods, a wild animal knows exactly what to eat, and how much to eat.

So except in unusual circumstances, young children and wild animals do not eat to the detriment of their health. And you rarely see young children or animals who are overweight. If you do, it’s usually because of their association with human adults!

So if young children experience mind/body wholeness, how and when does the split between mind and body occur?

At a certain point, the influence and behavior of others around us begins to override our natural bodily inclinations. In both psychology and mindfulness, this is called “conditioning.”

For example, the Centers for Disease Control report that around the age of five, the size of the plate starts to become more important than the body’s needs in determining how much we eat. This kind of conditioning will be especially strong if you grew up in a family where “cleaning your plate” was mandatory.

Another reason for the mind/body split is that as we grow older, we begin to give more attention to the mind, and less to the body. Instead of feeling all of ourselves, body and mind, we give so much attention to thoughts that our very sense of self becomes defined by thoughts – particularly the thoughts “I” and “me.”

For a variety of reasons, this mental sense of self then develops its own appetites, which are often in conflict with the body’s authentic needs.

As we lose touch with the body, it becomes harder to feel the simple and delightful pleasures of eating. To compensate, we may attempt to enhance our experience of eating by consuming richer foods, or more food. Yet this approach does not address the real problem, which is disconnection from our bodily experience.